How to Grow Globe Thistle (Beginner’s Guide)

Globe thistle is a unique, globe-headed flowering perennial that offers an awesome touch to your garden without asking for a lot of work.

Echinops ritro is drought-tolerant when established, animal-resistant, and grows in nearly all soil types.

They’re part of the Asteraceae group, which makes it a complimentary plant to sunflowers, artichokes, daisies, and more.

You can instantly add a unique background plant, indoor decor, or even vase it if you want.

Ready? Let’s dive right in and learn how to grow and care for globe thistle.

Quick care guide: Globe Thistle

Plant type Perennial
Origin Europe, Asia
Scientific name Echinops ritro
Other names Great globe thistle, pale globe thisle, star thistle, Echinops, yellow star thistle, globe trot
Soil type Loamy, clay, sandy, well-draining
Soil pH 5.5-6.5 (acidic)
Sunlight requirement Full sun
Bloom season Spring, summer
Colors Purple, blue, white, green, pink, violet, brown, yellow, hybrid
Max height 6 feet
Max width 1-3 feet
Low temperature 60F
High temperature 80F
Ideal temperature range 65-75F
Humidity Low
Watering requirements Often during germination, lessen watering after plants established
Fertilizer requirements None
Fertilizer NPK 5-10-5
Days until germination 1-2 weeks
Days until bloom 2-3 months
Speed of growth Moderate
Hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Plant depth 0.25 inches from seed, as deep as original plant for transplants
Plant spacing 18 inches or higher
Propagation Seeds, root divisions, transplants, cuttings
Common pests Aphids, leaf miners, four lined plant bug
Common diseases Crown rot, root rot
Indoor plant No
Outdoor plant Yes
Grown in container Yes
Flowering plant Yes
Beginner friendly Yes
Care level Easy
Uses Decoration, color, centerpiece, pathing, bordering, background plant, foreground plant, indoor plant, bird/bee attractor, beneficial pollinator

What’s globe thistle?

Globe thistles are the ultimate troll plant.

What I mean by that is they look so attractive to touch. Their purple-blue globular heads.

Their soft, pokey thorns?

And their attractive tall flowering blooms.

But DON’T touch them!

They’re extremely sharp to the touch and may cause an adverse reaction in your skin. Never touch globe thistle without proper gardening gloves.

So throughout this guide, do not ever touch them without protective equipment.

Globe thistle isn’t poisonous, but it does poke.

Although they do hurt when you touch them, they’re not toxic to people, pets, or livestock. Just don’t touch them without some protective gloves. And fence off areas that may lead to contact.

These tall plants love full sun exposure and acidic soil in zones 3-8. They’re good for xeriscapes because they don’t need much water to grow well.

They do well in dry soils or clay soils. They can grow in dry or wet conditions.

Where do they come from?

Scientifically known as Echinops ritro, globe thistles are part of the Aster genius.

They have large pokey flowers that bloom in the late spring or early summer and last for about 2 months before they’re done for the season.

They’re hard little plants and one of the best-looking globe plants in my opinion.

Each globe stands above the green foliage with heads about 2 inches in length and up to 48-inch stems! They have a stunning deep blue paired with dark green foliage.

The leaves are notched with dark green on the surface and silver on the bottom with fine hairs all over. They come from Europe and Asia.

These flowers can be used as background fill, or even fresh cut and then dried for display.

Hardiness zone

It grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3-8.

It’s possible to grow it in a higher or lower zone, and you may even get away with using cold frames, mulch, or other means to support it during the winter.

However, if you want the easiest planting experience, stick with the ideal zones.

How to propagate globe thistle

Blue globe thistle.
Look at those globes.

The best time to plant is between May to June. Globe thistle will bloom during the summertime and is also self-seeding.

So that means once you set it up, it’ll bloom over and over. It’s a perennial, so you don’t need to worry about planting it every time.

Easy enough, huh?

This is a very low-maintenance perennial that’s good for beginners. So if you want something that looks amazing without the work, globe thistle is a good choice.

Here we’ll cover the different ways you can propagate this plant. You do have your options: seed, layering, cuttings, root divisions, or even transplants for the hands-off type.

From seed

If you have globe thistle already, you can collect the seed from the heads in the fall. Remove the seed heads and shake out the seeds.

Sow outdoors for natural germination in the spring. If starting indoors, the seeds will need to be put in the fridge for cold stratification.

Similar to other plants like cotoneaster, Virginia bluebells, amaryllis, or blueberry, cold globe thistle requires a cold window of exposure in the winter for it to germinate.

If you sow indoors, you don’t need to worry about the last frost.

However, outdoor sowing will.

Here’s a video that shows you how to cold stratify:

Xyz

  • Sow indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost.
  • Start in small pots or use a seed starter. 2-3 seeds per compartment work best.
  • They do need light to germinate, so only use a thin layer of compost to cover them.
  • Place next to a filtered window or use a grow light.
  • Give them a light misting and then cover to trap the humidity. You can use saran wrap or the plastic dome that comes with seed kits. Maintain an average temperature of 68F.
  • Seedlings will emerge in less than two weeks.
  • Water when the soil becomes dry on the surface.
  • Thin to 1 plant in each compartment and move to a brighter location after they sprout.
  • They’re ready to be transplanted outside when the chance of frost is gone.
  • Plant them approximately 24 inches apart in the garden, or keep them in containers. Whatever you like.
  • You can grow them outdoors if you’re in a warmer zone.
  • Choose a plot with full sun and then scatter the seeds.
  • Till the soil to remove any clumps and debris.
  • Water gently and seedlings will emerge within 10 days or so if it’s warm.
  • Thin seedlings to 18 inches or higher to provide ample growing space.

From root cuttings

If you have an established plant, you can take the lateral roots to propagate from cuttings. In the late winter, uproot the plant by digging out a few inches around the root.

There will be roots running out to the sides (laterally) from the center. Cut them off with a sterilized pruner. This will stop the possibility of an infection.

If your cuttings have a lot of junk, you’ll need to clean it before you plant.

Remove any debris by brushing it off or spraying it down. The root cutting should be at least 5 inches in length. Cut at the thickest part of the root.

Replant the host plant and then clean off the cutting. Dip it into rooting powder if you wish. Then lay the end of the root into the soil about 3 inches deep in a full sun location. Water generously the first time.

By transplant

Transplanting is easy.

Buy an established globe thistle and then slide it out of the container. Dig a hole just as wide as the clump of dirt it originally came in.

Then plant it in a sunny location. You can minimize shock by keeping the original dirt it comes with while the roots grow out of the new dirt.

How to care for globe thistle

Here are some general guidelines, tips, and tricks for growing globe thistle.

Depending on your specific cultivar, your plant’s needs may vary. But these should get you going with a care plan.

Note that these are written for USDA zones 3-8. If your zone is off, you’ll need to do extra work to keep your thistle blooming, such as winter care or summer care.

Soil

As with any flowering perennial, use only well-draining soil. The more drainage you can provide, the lower the chance of wet feet, rot, and fungus.

Globe thistle doesn’t have a problem tolerating dry or clumpy soils. Rocky or sandy soils both work fine.

So does clay soil. If you can use a plant bed, that’s ideal. Get a raised one to help improve drainage.

Planting in containers is also possible, but you need to use potting mix, not garden soil. They’re not the same.

Ensure that your pot has multiple drainage holes and put a layer of rocks or pebbles at the base to prevent clumping or blockage.

Wherever you plant it, don’t move it again. It’s difficult to move without shocking it because globe thistle doesn’t like to be moved around after becoming established.

You can harvest the seeds then plant them in a new location next season if you need to.

Average and poor soil works fine. They need to drain well and keep dry.

While thistle can be grown in a container, if you want the best blooms, it’s preferred to be planted in the soil.

Note that container plants will need more water as it evaporates quicker. Watch out for your fertilizer also.

Don’t over-fertilize or else it’ll build up. Never overwater. Never over-fertilize. Container plants are an enclosed environment so you control all the variables.

Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra for top-notch soil if you’re planning to pot your globe thistle.

Choose a permanent location from the start if possible. Try to keep even moisture at all times and maintain it- don’t let it flux!

pH

The ideal pH for globe thistle is between 5.5-6.5. It likes loamy, slightly acidic soil. You can buy a cactus mix or lower the pH naturally with amendments.

If the soil is too wet or fertile, your plants will be leggy with lots of leaves, but very few globes. Use dry and neutral soil for best results.

If you don’t know what soil you have, use a soil testing kit. It tolerates salty soil conditions as well.

Depth

When planting from seed, plant it with 0.25″ of soil over the top. It doesn’t need a lot and will germinate on its own from seed pods. Little to no soil coverage is needed to propagate.

If you’re transplanting, then try to do the same as the planting depth you got it with. This means do the same planting depth in the container it originally came in. If it’s a root division, do the same as the original plant.

This will reduce shock.

Water

Provide 1-2 inches of water per week. Use your finger and feel the top inch of soil. It should be dry between waterings.

Increase if sunny or hot. These plants can tolerate drought, so no need to overwater. Account for rainwater as well.

Ensure good drainage soil is present at all times. The soil will get clumpy in containers, so regular changing each season is good to keep it enriched.

Once they become established, they need very little water. You’ll find that you water more in the beginning than the end.

Spacing

Space each plant at least 18 inches apart when soil planting.

You’ll still get that dense look but it’ll reduce competition between each plant. If growing in a container, use 12″ or higher diameter.

Fertilizer

Globe thistle doesn’t need any plant food!

Only if you notice that your globes are tiny or not producing as much yield should you supplement with fertilizer.

Otherwise, they should do fine with regular TLC. Your globes may start to flop if there are excess nutrients, which should be a sign that you should stop fertilizing and start staking.

If you notice that there are too many leaves but not enough flowers, then a bit of plant food can be beneficial. However, this isn’t often necessary.

Keep it simple!

Temperature

Globe thistle likes hot and dry conditions.

It grows well in clay, sand, or loamy soils with temperatures hovering around 65-75F. If you’re in zones 3-8, the ideal temperature range should be there by default.

  • If you’re in a higher zone, consider planting in partial shade to prevent scorching.
  • If you’re in a colder zone, you’ll need to add some mulch during the winter or use a cold frame to protect it.

Humidity

If you have very high humidity in your area naturally or from watering, make sure to keep your thistle pruned so it doesn’t build up.

Additionally, provide plenty of plant spacing so that it can evaporate. Excess humidity will lead to fungus or rot problems.

Sunlight

Globe thistle requires full sun. Partial sunlight can work, but only if you’re located somewhere that’s overly scorching.

Otherwise, leave it be and get them a full day of sunlight exposure. This will help them bloom and get larger heads.

Globe thistle should be planted on the east side of your garden for the best yield.

Pruning

Cut off any spent flowers and deadhead the stems. This helps propagate new growth by encouraging it to rebloom.

Don’t leave them there to wilt- it attracts pests and saps your plant’s energy. You can use the cut flowers in dried floral decor or compost.

Regular pruning of the foliage also helps aerate the area and prevent fungal problems.

Globe thistle is very low maintenance so it takes care of itself. Deadhead all spent flowers to keep the bloom going.

Water is only necessary for the event of a dry spell. You don’t need to go crazy if you miss a watering (or two). They can tolerate drought.

You’ll also need to weed your garden to minimize competition from other plants. It also helps stop fungus, pests and keeps it dry.

Staking

All tall plants start to leave. If they bend, they’ll break.

Broken stems will lead to pests that feed on plant sap. Taller cultivars will need staking if they start to bend. Decrease plant food/watering and stake as needed.

Overwintering

Globe thistle dies back in the wintertime.

Cut the plants back down to soil level in late winter to prevent pest infestations. The plant will naturally reseed if left alone and comes back in the spring.

Colder zones will benefit from adding a layer of mulch to protect the root systems from cold. Cut all stems to soil level and dispose of the debris to stop pests and plant problems.

Don’t let it sit there and wilt on its own.

In the spring, they’ll self-sow. You can let them be or remove them. You can also transplant them to new locations if you want to.

Collecting seeds

If you have a globe thistle native to your area, you’ve got it made.

For the rest of us, we’ll have to either buy seeds from the nursery or collect them from previous plants.

Put on some gloves and take seeds from the seed head in the early fall.

This is when the petals are faded and spiky silver seeds take over. The entire head can be cut using pruners.

Sterilize them before you cut them to prevent infection. Store the seeds in a cool and dark place with a paper bag. Keep it aerated, so don’t use plastic bags which may cause mold.

Container planting

Globe thistle grown in container.
It can be dried and used as a decorative piece.

If you plan to grow in a container, use well-draining soil and limit fertilizer.

Globe thistle plants will freeze in the winter when placed inside a pot, so consider moving them into your house if needed for colder zones.

Otherwise, care is pretty much the same. Don’t overwater. Don’t use plant food. And keep tabs on the soil quality.

There’s no need to upgrade the container since it dies out every winter. Save the seeds and propagate them into additional containers if desired.

Cut down to basal foliage every winter. You can use sandy loam or cactus soil for potting.

Pests

There aren’t many bugs that’ll eat globe thistle. It’s deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and attracts bees, birds, and butterflies.

Because of its natural insect repellent globes, the only bugs you’ll have problems with will be on the leaves, such as aphids, mites, and some beetles.

It also helps attract painted butterflies because it provides the necessary food they eat. If you’re in the wild or a rural area, you’ll find that beneficial insects will flock to your garden.

The globe thistles provide plenty of bait for these pollinators because of their blue colorful heads.

Aphids and the four-lined plant bug are the two most common munchers. They don’t do much harm to them other than cosmetic damage. They can be removed by regular hosing down and insecticidal soap.

Other pests include the Echinops leaf miner, potato capsid bug, and spider mites. These pests can cause deformity or dry foliage. Celery leafier and the melon aphid are also common.

Leaf miners will cause those veiny tunnels in your leaves. They can be ridden with neem oil- use as directed.

Globe thistle will be resistant to most pests so you don’t need to be paranoid.

Diseases

Globe thistle is strong and only susceptible to very few rot issues. Crown rot is caused by a fungus in the soil that can eat the roots.

If you see that the rot is visible around the roots, you’ll want to destroy the plant entirely. Blight and mildew are also common. These are caused by excessive watering and poor evaporation.

Prune regularly and remove infested foliage. Use a fungicide to kill the pathogens on the leaves.

Propagating

Globe thistle is a self-seeding plant and will grow itself next season.

If you don’t want this to occur, remove all the flower heads when they fade to brown/silver.

Once they change their colors, they start to set seeds. Stop this and you’ll stop them from seeding into next season.

Maintenance

Caring for globe thistle is easy. There’s very little to do once you plant it.

They require NOTHING other than regular watering and fertilizer if needed.

If the heads become too big, they require staking, or else you’ll see them lean over.

Globe thistle is pretty much pest-resistant and has very few bugs that eat them.

If you don’t overwater, it likely won’t get any rot issues either.

Types of globe thistle

If you’re having a hard time choosing between the 100+ different types of domesticated thistle, here are some to get you started:

  • Arctic Glow (whiteheads with red stems and silver leaves)
  • Taplow Blue (blue heads with tall stems)
  • Veitch’s Blue (dark blue heads with silver stems)

Best uses

This is a perfect dry-weather plant. Use it for xeriscaping in dry areas. It needs minimal care and tolerates all sorts of soil conditions. It’s deer, rabbit, and wildlife resistant.

It brings in beneficial pollinators. It can grow well in borders, continents, plant beds, and grows perfectly as a plant background or coverage plant.

Companion planting

Globe thistle grows well with other xeriscape plants like yarrow or lavender cotton.

This will bring complementary colors to your garden and control globe thistle from taking over your garden.

Some other excellent companion plants include succulents, coneflower, and black-eyed Susan.

Anything that looks good with the heads is a good choice. Pair blues with oranges or complimentary colors.

The globes can also work in brighter gardens with lots of white or green. The blue heads look like orbs of magic.

You can also cut them off and use them as a decor plant. They can be dried for decorative purposes.

Similar plants

Some plants that are similar to globe thistle are the Russian globe thistle, which grows up to 5 feet tall and has spinier foliage.

The Siberian globe thistle grow up to 4 feet tall and has cobweb leaf surfaces with hairy leaf bottoms.

Other common questions

Look- don’t touch.

Here are some commonly asked questions by readers that cover globe thistle care. You may find these pretty handy for your journey!

How long does it take globe thistle to grow?

Globe thistle readily germinates in less than two weeks. This depends on the humidity, temperature, and water availability.

Generally, the warmer it is, the quicker they’ll germinate.

As for time to bloom, you should expect flowering globes within the season.

Will globe thistle compete with other plants?

Globe thistle is a hungry perennial and will compete for soil nutrients. It competes for water, NPK, and space.

If you have other slower plants, it can really stunt their growth.

Because of this, try avoiding planting with critical or priority plants that you really want to grow in your garden. Or isolate each plant bed. Avoid planting with plants in the same genus.

Do you cut back globe thistle?

Yes, you should cut back any spent blooms so the plant can grow another round of them.

Cutting it back encourages it to spend energy on blooming globes, rather than sapping it all away on dead flowers. Cut it back after it blooms, when you harvest the seeds, and for the winter.

How tall does globe thistle grow?

The height depends on the cultivar you’re growing.

Some only grow 2 feet while others can grow up to 5 feet. It varies, but globe thistle is a tall plant that shoots their globes up into the air above the sea of green foliage.

Some grow so tall that you’ll need to stake them or else the globes will lean or fall over.

Can you grow globe thistle in pots?

You sure can.

Globe thistle can be grown in containers or pots. The thing to know is that they’ll need regular watering since water evaporates at a higher rate when grown in pots.

Additionally, you should never use fertilizer because of buildup issues, unless you absolutely need it. Thistle can be harvested each season and then planted in the same pot or additional pots as needed.

You’ll also need a good quality potting mix, such as cactus mix or a good quality compost.

Since the pots are a closed environment, you can benefit your thistles by choosing a higher quality soil.

When planted in the soil, it doesn’t matter as much. The nice thing about pot planting is that you can bring it indoors if it’s too hot or cold.

Further reading/references

You may find these references helpful if you need additional information:

Enjoy your globes

Globe thistle with bee.
Bees and birds will come to your yard because of those blooms.

Now that you know the basics of globe thistle care, go ahead, get started.

These gorgeous prickly plants are something to instantly grab your attention when you enter the yard, but just don’t touch them or else your skin will pay the price.

With their extreme ease of care, minimal watering requirements (after they’re established), and drought tolerant resilience, they’re one gorgeous perennial that flowers for you with minimal effort.

What do you think? Do you have any questions? Where will you be planting them and for what purpose? Do you have any tips or tricks to care for globe thistle?

Leave a comment and let us know!

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